Editor’s note: Every Friday, HLN brings you the "My First Time" series, which explores the first time your favorite celebrities did something significant or memorable (so get your mind out of the gutter!).
In this installment, actor Nadji Jeter — who plays Chris Rock’s son in “Grown Ups 2” — opens up about balancing his career, education and philanthropy. On July 17, Jeter will be honored with the Global Youth Leadership Award for his involvement with Usher’s New Look Foundation. Jeter has just completed a video game, “The Last of Us,” and is working on his music career. He is on Twitter.
HLN: In "Grown Ups 2," your character, Andre, fibs about his age. When was the first time you lied about your age in your personal life?
Nadji Jeter: Oh, several times, talking to girls! Girls would come up to me who are 21 and I’m 16, and I would say I’m 18. Once, I was 14 and I said I was 17. I had no facial hair, so I’m smart with the lying about your age thing.
HLN: In the film, Andre is hesitant to get in trouble. What was it like to portray a good teenager, as opposed to the stereotypical one who acts out?
Jeter: It was pretty easy. Andre, he’s hilarious but he’s very simple, so it was easy to connect with his character and really find his emotion in the movie. And kids can see good examples of how they should act in certain situations. Kids Andre’s age can watch the movie and be like, “OK, Andre made a choice there, so maybe I can make that choice next time I’m in a situation like that.”
HLN: You’re also a role model in your personal life. Tell us about your work with New Look:
Jeter: I started with New Look when I was 6 years old. Back then, it was just a two-week summer camp program, but it has evolved into so much and now it’s an official program where they focus on education, talent and career. I was actually the youngest one in the camp: I was just this anxious, curious little boy who knew that my role model, Usher, was in the same building I was and he’s giving us notes on how to be an entertainer. Camp New Look really motivated me to take my career to the next step.
HLN: You graduated from the program in 2005. Why did you decide to stay involved, even after you moved from Atlanta to Los Angeles to pursue your acting career?
Jeter: I stayed involved because there are certain kids who didn’t have the support to continue what they wanted to do. So I wanted to motivate and encourage these kids, to help them stay focused and to keep going, and to let them know that they’ll eventually be what they want to be in the world.
HLN: What does it feel like to be considered a mentor at only 17?
Jeter: It’s pressure at times, but then again, I’m just myself. I don’t try to be this smiley, goody-goody persona. I am myself and I will tell you what’s real and say these are the choices you need to make in your career.
HLN: What’s your advice to kids who do look up to you and who want to be where you are one day?
Jeter: My biggest advice is to keep you head up and be positive all around. Don’t let negative things get you down, no matter what people say about you. Just keep going and keep fighting until you reach that goal where you want to be. And never give up.
HLN: How do you make sure that you aren’t growing up too fast?
Jeter: My mom is responsible for that and also, Cartoon Network. On Saturday mornings, I wake up, turn on “Dexter’s Laboratory,” and get a bowl full of Fruity Pebbles, and I’m still sitting in front of the TV, eating my Fruity Pebbles, and watching cartoons. That right there keeps me grounded.
What is one thing from your childhood you don’t think you’ll ever give up, even as an adult?
Jeter: My imagination. I’m still such a big kid at heart — I still love action figures and crazy pop art, and I was very creative as a kid. I stopped playing with action figures at age 12! So I guess my imagination and my creativity. And Cartoon Network.